Tsumugi fiddled nervously with her fingers as Makoto smiled understandingly at her. “Tsumugi, it’s okay. We’ve known each other for years; you don’t have to get all nervous.”
“Sorry.” Tsumugi quickly apologized, letting her hands fall in her lap. “I’ve just…never been called to the headmaster’s office before.”
“It’s okay.” Makoto assured her. “I was the same way when I first met my predecessor.”
“Ah, that’s right!” Tsumugi realized. “You took over after your father-in-law, ne? It’s like you’re the crowned king in a family dynasty!”
Makoto sweatdropped as he deadpanned But…not every headmaster was a Kirigiri… Makoto cleared his throat and replied “Anyway, there’s no need to be nervous. This just a career counseling meeting; you’re not in any trouble.” Once Tsumugi relaxed in her chair, Makoto asked “So, do you know what you want to do after you graduate?”
Tsumugi hummed in contemplation before her lips drooped into a frown. “Well…I don’t really know, to be honest. I mean, all I’m really good for are my cosplays. Sure, I love watching anime and reading manga and playing video games, but I don’t think most employers out there look too fondly on otaku culture.”
Makoto frowned and shook his head. “Maybe if you were only framing it in an otaku context, you’d be right, but let’s try looking at this another way. Tsumugi, your talent as a cosplayer means that you would make a top-notch seamstress. And with how many animes and mangas you’ve digested, surely you must have picked up enough to know how to tell a good story of your own.”
Tsumugi’s eyes sparkled as she asked excitedly “You…you really think so, Headmaster Naegi?”
Makoto nodded and confirmed “I know so. You have talent, Tsumugi, I promise you that. So, with that in mind, tell me…” Makoto folded his hands and asked “What would your ideal job be? What do you want to do with your life?”
“Well…I’ve always admired all the animes and mangas that I’ve digested. The first time I watched a Doraemon episode, it gave me a feeling of purpose! Even if I had a bad day at school or whatever, going to my room and watching an episode or reading a tankoban would make me so happy inside. I…I want to pay it forward. I want to create something that will give the entire world a sense of purpose, an opportunity to escape the real world for a time and enjoy a world of real fiction!”
Makoto chuckled as he remarked “I like your enthusiasm; you actually remind me of one of my former classmates.” He slid a photo of a similarly blue-haired girl over to Tsumugi, causing her to furrow her brow. “Her name was Sayaka Maizono-”
“Maizono…you mean like that music teacher…” The cosplayer’s eyes widened as she finally connected the dots. “Oh, wasn’t she that massively popular pop idol back in your day?”
“Yes, that’s right.” Makoto smiled fondly as he recalled his former crush. “You see, she was very lonely as a little girl. Her father had to work a lot, and she grew up without a mother in her life.”
“What a tragic backstory…” Tsumugi lamented, causing Makoto to nod seriously in agreement.
“Yes, she had it really hard. Anyway, her life changed when she saw a pop idol on TV for the first time. Their performance made her smile, and she admired how they made the crowd smile with their performance. At that moment, she resolved to become a pop idol so she could bring smiles to other people’s faces. I see that same desire to make people smile in you.”
Tsumugi blushed, embarrassed from the praise. “But…do you rally think people would smile at the stories of such a …plain girl?”
You remind me of myself when I first entered Hope’s Peak… Smiling in amusement, Makoto nodded. “I know they will, if you give yourself the chance to try.”
“Well…okay. I’ll try to make something that will make people smile. I just don’t know exactly what that is yet. I don’t know what my true calling is.”
Makoto nodded understandingly. “That’s fine, feel free to take your time. There’s no need to rush into a decision right away, just think on what I’ve said.”
“I will.” Tsumugi stood up and bowed before she continued “Thank you, Headmaster.”
With that, the cosplayer turned and walked out of the office, Makoto’s words leaving her in a contemplative state. Hm…something to make people smile…Can I really do that…?
“And that’s how it went.” Tsumugi sighed as she finished recounting her counseling meeting to her friends.
“Ah, so what are you gonna do?” Shuichi inquired, causing Tsumugi to frown.
“Honestly, I have no idea where to start. I’m really good at cosplay design, and if I tried hard enough, I could possibly write a half-decent story. But I just don’t know where to take that.”
“…What about a play?” Everyone turned to Kirumi who explained. “The Student Council is currently in the process of selecting a play to recommend to the drama club. If you wrote a manuscript, and the Student Council approved it, we would recommend it to Mr. Hagakure.”
“You should do it, Tsumugi!” Kiki grinned as she exclaimed “I know you’d write an awesome play!”
Shuichi nodded in agreement. “Ah, yeah, and it would be a way to mix your cosplay and story creation talents together.”
“You…you guys really think so?” Tsumugi asked hopefully.
Gonta nodded in agreement. “Gonta can help to carry props if your play is approved!”
“Bear in mind that since we’re friends, I will have to recuse myself from the debate and vote.” Kirumi cautioned. “All I can do without abusing my position is put it as a calendar item for one of our meetings.”
“O-okay…I guess…I can give it a shot.” Tsumugi reluctantly agreed. If nothing else, I can at least see if being a playwriter is my cup of tea. “But what should I write a play about…?”
“So…what do you think…?” Tsumugi asked hesitantly as Hiro finished reading the last word of her manuscript.
True to her word, Kirumi recused herself from the Student Council’s debate on which play to recommend to the drama club, ensuring that their decision was fair and focused on the merits. An anxious Tsumugi was relieved to find that the rest of the Student Council loved her play, but her relief was short-lived with the realization that she and Kirumi would have to convince Hiro to permit it. And so they stood, Tsumugi nervously biting her nails as Kirumi kept her composure.
Tsumugi le tout a final sigh of relief as Hiro’s lips stretched from ear-to-ear in an approving grin. “This play is totally amazing, for serious! In fact, I want you to be co-director of this production, so that it stays true to your original vision.”
“A-are you serious?!” Tsumugi cried, tears of joy streaming down her cheeks. “I get to approve all creative decisions?!”
Hiro laughed and clapped her on the back. “Yep, I’m super serious, Shirogane-chan! I just know everyone’s gonna love it!”
Kirumi smiled softly at her friend and told her “See? I knew that your production would be approved if you gave yourself a chance.”
“Th-thank you, Kirumi. Thank you, Hagakure-sensei.” Tsumugi blubbered. “I…I can’t wait to see this in action!” This may be the greatest achievement I’ve ever gotten! I have to make sure I put in the effort so that this is the greatest production this school has ever seen! So many costumes to sew, actors to cast, props to make…!
“Tsumugi’s play is gonna be amazing!” Kiki exclaimed as she and her family took their seats.
“Indeed, this should be an interesting watch.” Kyoko mused as Makoto nodded in agreement.
“Yeah, from what I’ve heard, Tsumugi’s been working really hard with Hiro to get this play just right. Apparently from what Hiro’s told me, she’s taking her duties so seriously, he’s both impressed and frightened.”
“Yeah…Tsumugi can get intense with her hobbies.” Kiki lamented with a slight giggle before her eldest brother squeezed her hand. She smiled down at his nervous, darting face as she patted his shoulder and mused “Being surrounded by all these people is making you nervous, isn’t it, Moku?”
“…Yes…” He admitted quietly as he leaned more into his big sister. “…It gets loud.”
“Well don’t worry.” She assured him. “Once the play gets going, everyone’s gonna be quiet as mice. And even when they applaud between scenes, we can cover your ears so you don’t hear it.”
“I’m gonna applaud the loudest.”
The other Naegis turned to the bickering twins, who to nobody’s surprise were playfully elbowing each other.
“Dream on, Koto. My clapping’s gonna be way louder than yours!” Kiri insisted as her twin brother scowled.
“No, mine is!”
“Koto, Kiri, enough.” Kyoko’s stern voice silenced her two youngest children as she softly glared at them.
“Your mother’s right, you two.” Makoto nodded as he decided “You know your big brother is sensitive to loud noise, so we’re going to make this easier for him by not contributing to the applause. Do you understand?”
“…Yes, Dad…” The twins mumbled, earning an approving nod from their parents and grateful smiles from Kiki and Mokubo.
At that moment, the curtain parted, revealing the stage behind it. The audience fell silent as the actors stepped onto the stage, beginning the first scene.
Tsumugi meanwhile bit her lip nervously as she prayed that her first play would go off without a hitch.
As Tsumugi and Hiro took their final bow, the audience burst into thunderous applause. As tears of joy streamed down the cosplayer’s face, Hiro grinned at her.
“See? Everyone loved your play so much, they’re smiling, for serious!”
Maybe he’s right…maybe I can make something that’ll make people smile after all!
Tsumugi could only nod in agreement, struck silent by the roaring approval of the crowd’s reaction. Eventually the noise died down and the lights turned on. As the crowd got up from their seats and began to disperse, the other students began to mingle with their families who lingered after the production ended.
“Oof!” Tsumugi wobbled as Kiki tackled her in a hug.
“I knew you could do it! I knew everyone would love your play!” She turned to her family who was right behind her and gestured to her eldest brother. “Even Moku here smiled at your play.”
“It was…good…” Mokubo muttered bashfully, causing Tsumugi to giggle.
“Well I’m glad you all liked my play.”
“Yeah, it was awesome!” Koto agreed.
“You really know how to write a good play, Shirogane-san.” Kiri concurred as Makoto nodded.
“So, Tsumugi…” The headmaster asked curiously “Have you found your calling?”
Tsumugi hummed in contemplation before she reluctantly shook her head. “Honestly, this was a lot of fun, more than I thought it would be. I put in a lot of hard work and I’m proud of the crafting I did. But…I think plays are a little too small.” Tsumugi’s eyes seemed to sparkle as she confessed “I want to make something that’ll reach a global audience, and I simply can’t do that with traditional theatre! Maybe…I’ll bounce some ideas off my summer pen pal.”
“Summer pen pal…?” Kiki’s eyes widened as she realized “You mean that Amami boy you mentioned back in middle school?”
“Yeah! Maybe having a fresh perspective can really help my creativity to flourish!”
“I see…well, at least you have more of an idea of what you want out of your life.” Makoto smiled. “Well, I look forward to seeing what you’ll create after you graduate.”
“Indeed.” Kyoko mused with a soft smile. “I’m sure you’ll create something we’ll all be watching for years to come.”
Tsumugi giggled, warmed by the encouraging smiles shown to her by her best friend and the rest of the Naegi family. Thank you…I still don’t know exactly what I’m going to do, but I’ll be sure to make something that will make everyone in the world feel happy, and make them feel like they have a purpose in the world!